indiatogether.org | July 2001
Ravi Rebbapragada introduces a campaign to oppose the amendment of Schedule V of the Constitution of India
July 2001: The Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution that provides protection to the adivasi people living in the Scheduled Areas, is under imminent threat of being amended to allow the transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals and corporates. This move has serious economic and cultural implications to the 80 million tribals of the country. This report attempts to capture the sequence of recent events and concludes with an appeal for support.
The 1997 Supreme Court Judgement:
Samata, an NGO working in the scheduled area of Andhra Pradesh, filed a case against the Government of A.P for leasing tribal lands to private mining companies in the scheduled areas. The SLP [special leave petition] filed in the Supreme court led to a historic judgement in July 1997 by a three judge-bench which declared that government is also a ‘person’ and that all lands leased to private mining companies in the scheduled areas are null and void.
Extracts: Salient features of this judgement
Events subsequent to the judgement
Instead of implementing the orders of the Supreme Court which gives strength and clarity to the Fifth Schedule, the Central government has not only ignored the directions, but has also continued its efforts to reverse the judgement.
In view of future mining activities, the Supreme Court had given certain clear directions on the course of action that could be taken by the government. It directed that the Prime Minister should convene a conference of all Chief Ministers and other concerned Central Ministers, to take a policy decision so as to bring about a suitable enactment in the light of the guidelines, so that a consistent scheme throughout the country is evolved and adopted. However, if the Constitution is amended for the sake of mining as proposed, there will be many sectors which would justify acquisition of tribal lands for other development objectives. This would only lead to tribals being completely destroyed and dislocated. The government has not taken any of these serious issues into consideration when it started its sale of the first public sector mining company in the scheduled area.
The opinion of the government is evident in its recommendations through the Attorney General Soli Sorabjee who had, ironically, appeared on behalf of the tribals in the Samata Case! If nothing else, this raises the question of whether Mr. Sorabjee, in now representing a party opposed to his earlier client, may be acting with conflicting interests. In his new avatar as the government’s spokesman (rather than Samata’s) he stated to the Ministry of Mines in the above mentioned Secret Document that –
- “the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution of India can be amended to counter the adverse effect of the Samata judgement”.
- “The Supreme Court can reconsider its previous judgement (Samata case) if another pending case on a similar issue is brought before it.” (In this situation, the BALCO case which is pending for hearing at the Supreme Court, is being used by the government to amend the Fifth Schedule)
- “The other course open to parliament is to effect necessary amendments so as to overcome the said Supreme Court Judgement by removing the legal basis of the said Judgement. Such a course of action is legally permissible.”
Demands of the campaign
All the above moves are clearly indicative of the wholesome disregard of the Government towards adivasi rights under the Constitution. A majority of Fifth Schedule areas have already have a history of revolts and rebellions against state oppression and injustice. Any move to amend the Fifth Schedule, will only result in agitations and unrest. We demand that such moves should be immediately withdrawn.
The Campaign’s APPEAL
For this purpose of initiating discussion and planning out strategies, we have organised a Protest National Convention in ISI, New Delhi, on 8th & 9th July 2001 with the participation of Adivasi communities, grass-roots organisations and movements, NGOs, resource and advocacy groups, trade unions, legal and other experts.
We hope that you will deliberate this situation and join us in our fight to stop this proposed amendment to the Fifth Schedule. We appeal to you to take it up with your respective party, government, union, association, organisation, community, university and any other fora to prevent such a constitutional disaster. We also appeal to you to bring this up as a very urgent and important national issue to be immediately solved peacefully before the situation goes beyond control.